There is so much about the terrible plague year of 2020 that we all hope to leave behind, but for those of us who survived, it doesn’t all need to be put aside. Smaller things, like wearing masks in winter, will likely stick around (there’s a reason the flu season is barely on record this year), but the pandemic has also brought about bigger ideological shifts. in the way we see the world – and, more specifically, in the way we conceptualize and value the work itself.
Workers whose jobs were too often ignored, made redundant or made invisible before the arrival of Covid-19 have suddenly been put in the spotlight.
Workers whose jobs were too often ignored, made redundant or made invisible before the arrival of Covid-19 were suddenly put in the spotlight, greeted with applause and signs of gratitude and given a whole new designation: Essential. Of course, these workers have always been essential, and the work they do has long been the only thing that keeps our company running at what passes for a normal level. But as those who could do so suddenly retreated to home offices (or vacation homes), it became painfully clear how much our society depended on people who could not have simply stayed safe in their homes, even if they wanted to.
Healthcare workers and first responders were rightly right, but so were other hospital workers: the people who cleaned the floors, did the laundry and handled the bodies while the doctors and nurses desperately tried to ‘stem the tide of death. City dwellers rallied around sanitation workers and public transport workers and helped amplify their demands for protective equipment and appropriate wages; restaurant workers and delivery people kept people’s bellies full and their cupboards stocked and ensured that the most vulnerable members of our communities could stay safe from harm.
Farm workers and meat-packing plant workers risked everything to avoid major disruptions in the food supply chain, and grocery store workers have stood on the front lines to deliver these foods to distraught and waiting hands. . Teachers struggled to protect themselves and their students, an impossible puzzle they went to the trouble of solving. Warehouse workers – especially those at e-commerce giants like Amazon, Target, and Walmart – have picked up and packed millions of orders for basic necessities and purchases for depression, and utility workers across the country. countries kept the lights on.
Today, a year after the start of the pandemic, more than half a million people have died; few of them were government officials or the wealthy elite, but a great and terrible number spent their last season on Earth engaging in the very essential work that turned them into heroes – but ended up costing them their lives.
As the applause died down and the signs faded in the early spring rain, we will remember that phrase – “essential worker” – and the knowledge of who exactly made the world go round while the government twiddled his thumbs and the super-rich lowered the record. profits.
Those who were already in pain felt the knife twist the deepest, and even many who started out on stable ground saw their lives crumble around them. As grocery store workers died, tech moguls Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk made billions; when transit workers said goodbye to their co-workers, the former president was playing golf, his veins swelling with proprietary treatments.
There is no turning back now, and a new wave of worker activism and working class resistance is not only inevitable; this is already happening.
A necessary class consciousness has emerged in this country’s essential workforce, and the explosion of new union organizations and actions is an excellent sign of potential victories. Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama, are voting to form the company’s first union, which could have major ripple effects on the company’s other U.S. facilities. Teachers across the country are on strike to protect their students and make schools safer. Unionized grocery store workers forced large supermarket chains to offer a higher risk premium. Coal miners and graduate students are threatening to strike for wages and safety – and these are just a few examples.
At the federal level, the new administration took a decidedly pro-union stance, and the Covid-19 relief bill offered financial support to millions of workers (despite its shameful failure to include a minimum wage hike of $ 15 ), while with the potential passage of the PRO law, workers are in a decent position to realize real material gains. Things still aren’t great, but they’re a lot better than they were around this time last year.
The tip of light at the end of this dark tunnel is finally in sight, and hopefully it will bring a new era of working class resistance with it. Their work has always been essential, but now it is impossible to ignore them.